Does #MeToo Apply to Students in Charter Schools?
Students at North Valley Military Institute claimed they were victims of “abhorrent child sex abuse”. Was anyone listening?
“NVMI notes that allegations contained in the disclosable public records were unfounded and strongly denied by NVMI. Further, evidence indicated the social media account(s) of the former employee may have been hacked. Please be advised that publication of any of the information or photographs contained therein will be at your own risk and NVMI bears no risk to liability for such publication.”
– Law Offices of Young, Minney & Corr, LLP
The Charter Law Firm
According to a lawsuit filed on June 14, 2017, an administrator at the North Valley Military Institute College Preparatory Academy (NVMI)was alleged to have “exposed Plaintiffs and other minor children to inappropriate sexual language (including phrases like ‘suck my dick’)…exposed Plaintiffs to hardcore pornographic images…[and] assaulted and battered at least one of the minor Plaintiffs”. As a public entity that “supervised and oversaw NVMI’ s operations under an approved charter”, the LAUSD was also named in the suit with the allegation that it “had the means, resources, and oversight power to prevent the practices that led to the abuse of students” but did not do so. According to court records, this case appears to have been settled with both plaintiffs receiving monetary compensation. Left unanswered is the extent to which anyone reached out to other potential victims or what steps any entity has taken to ensure that other employees at NVMI will be properly supervised in the future.
As this case was winding its way through the courts, high-profile actresses were helping to shine a light on the issue of institutionalized sexual harassment and assault as the #MeToo movement gained traction. Unfortunately, it appears that these students, who attended a school where 87.8% of the students receive free and reduced-price lunch, were ignored. According to the lawsuit, the parents brought the alleged conduct to the attention of school administrators but were told that since “there was no ‘evidence’ of sex abuse or inappropriate touching by” the administrator, “the school claimed it had no obligation to report the conduct to the authorities.” If true, this would violate mandatory reporting laws in the state of California which require “people who have contact with children through their employment” to “report any known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to the county child welfare department or to a local law enforcement agency (local police/sheriff’s department).” Instead, the complaint alleges that the school retaliated against them by “intentionally and maliciously [filing] false reports of child abuse [by both sets of parents] with the Department of Children and Family Services”.
The school was asked under the California Public Records Act to provide any general parent communication that included the name of the administrator and only provided a copy of a newsletter dated July 31, 2016, where he was welcomed as the “Hawk Exchange manager.” It, therefore, appears that other parents were not notified of the allegations, even after the lawsuit was received.
NVMI is co-located under Prop-39 at Sun Valley High School, which is in LAUSD Board Member Kelly Gonez’ district. When NVMI gave me a tour of their school last year, it was clear that the two student populations regularly mixed. In fact, the tour guide interacted with both NVMI and Sun Valley students during our tour. It is, therefore, possible that misbehavior by an NVMI staffer could also have affected LAUSD students.
Gonez’s office was asked in September if the administrators of Sun Valley High School were aware of the allegations made in the lawsuit and if parents and students were notified. They responded that my questions had been “passed along to District staff to see what information we can provide in response to your queries.” Unfortunately, no other response was ever received so it is unknown if anyone from Sun Valley knew what was going on at NVMI.
On November 7, 2017, the LAUSD school board denied a renewal request by NVMI. While the Charter School Division provided an extensive report detailing a multitude of reasons for the denial, the then-pending lawsuit was not one of them. However, under a flaw in the charter authorizing law, unelected members of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) are able to overturn the decisions of local school boards. Like Magnolia Schools before it, and without even having a copy of the required independent audit, the county ignored the LAUSD and approved a renewal of the charter. When NVMI was asked to provide copies of any communication they had with LACOE regarding the employee, the school replied “that it has no disclosable public records responsive to this request.”
It is clear that NVMI, the charter school industry, the LAUSD, and LACOE all failed the two students at the heart of this lawsuit. The lack of full disclosure means that parents exercising their choice to send their children to NVMI and Sun Valley High School are doing so without having complete access to all of the facts. Institutionalized acceptance of sexual harassment and assault is, therefore, allowed to continue. It appears that #MeToo does not apply to the students of this charter school.
Documents provided in response to PRA request (WARNING: Not Work Safe)
Thank you to Matthew Kogan for uncovering the North Valley Military Institute lawsuit.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.